Charles Ogletree, Harvard professor
“The criminal justice system is devouring our resources; putting people who have committed low-level offenses, who are perfectly capable of being rehabilitated, away for lengthy sentences and turning them into hardened criminals; destroying families and communities; and callously throwing away lives. We cannot afford to continue to invest in such a system.”
- Written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, June 11, 2009.
Roger K. Warren, National Center for State Courts
"State sentencing statutes, rules, and guidelines should provide sufficient flexibility so that sentencing judges can craft orders designed to reduce the risk of recidivism in appropriate cases, and should avoid overly broad, strict, or arbitrary sentencing mandates that interfere with more appropriate sentencing options. Principal examples of interfering mandates are provisions that prohibit judges from granting probation, require disproportionately long periods of
incarceration, or set mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment where neither the seriousness of the particular offense nor the risk factors presented by the particular offender warrant such restrictions."
“The benefits, if any, of mandatory minimum sentences do not justify this burden to taxpayers. Illegal drug use rates are relatively stable, not shrinking. It appears that mandatory minimums have become a sort of poor man’s Prohibition: a grossly simplistic and ineffectual government response to a problem that has been around longer than our government itself.”
- Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform, written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, House Committee on the Judiciary, July 14, 2009.
David A. Keene
“[M]y opposition to mandatory minimums . . . is rooted in conservative principles; namely, reverence for the Constitution and contempt for government action that ignores the differences among individuals. . . . James Madison, for one, believed that a clear separation of powers was more vital to protecting freedom than the Bill of Rights. Yet mandatory minimums undermine this important protector of liberty by allowing the legislature to steal jurisdiction over sentencing, which has historically been a judicial function. The attempt by legislatures and the Congress to address perceived problems in the justice system by transferring power from judges to prosecutors and the executive branch violate these principles and have, in the process, given prosecutors unreviewable authority to influence sentences through their charging decisions and plea bargaining power.”
- David A. Keene, Chairman, American Conservative Union, written testimony submitted to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary (July 14, 2009)
Pat Nolan, Justice Fellowship
“When judges mete out sentences for certain crimes, mandatory minimum laws prohibit them from weighing the relative harm caused by the crime or the relative culpability of the defendant. Mandatory minimum sentences are “one size fits all”. These laws offend the very notion of justice, which requires that the severity of the punishment match the harm done by an individual criminal. In Exodus 21:24, we are told that our judgments should exact an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” This verse limits punishment by requiring that offenders pay back “value for value.” The Bible calls for proportionality in punishment, and stresses that penalties should match the injury.”
Ed Meese, former U.S. Attorney General for President Reagan
“I think mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders ought to be reviewed. We have to see who has been incarcerated and what has come from it.”
Pat Robertson, Christian Broadcasting Network
"[O]ur government [should] revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals. ... [T]hese mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available."
- Thoughts of Pat Robertson, Founder and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, as delivered by CBN spokesman Chris Roslan on Dec. 23, 2010
General Barry McCaffrey, U.S. drug czar for President Clinton
"I am unalterably opposed to the system of mandatory minimums. I think we need to give this authority back to the judges.”
– Barry McCaffrey, former U.S. drug czar in the Clinton administration
U.S. Representative Bob Inglis (R-S.C.)
“Mandatory minimums wreak havoc on a logical system of sentencing guidelines. Mandatory minimums turn today’s hot political rhetoric into the nightmares of many tomorrows for judges and families.”
- Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), statement for press release, “New Poll: Americans Oppose Mandatory Minimums,Will Vote for Candidates Who Feel the Same,” (Sept. 24, 2008)
U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.)
“Mandatory minimum sentences have been studied extensively and have been shown to be ineffective in preventing crime. They have been effective in distorting the sentencing process. They discriminate against minorities in their application, and they have been shown to waste the taxpayers’ money.”- Rep. Bobby Scott, statement before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, House Committee on the Judiciary, June 26th, 2007.
U.S. Representative Henry Hyde (R-Ill.),1994
“It doesn’t make sense to put away everybody, no matter how peripherally involved in drug dealing, for five years or 10 years. Not only are such sentences morally troublesome, they threaten to sap the willpower we must maintain to deal with the true threats to society.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), 1998
“I do…understand that some first-time, nonviolent offenders have been given mandatory minimum sentences, and I would consider supporting legislation to give judges flexibility in such cases.”
Presidents of the United States
President George W. Bush
“I think a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease. And I’m willing to look at that.”
– George W. Bush on CNN (Inside Politics), January 18, 2001, three days before his inauguration as President of the United States.
President Bill Clinton
“I think the sentences in many cases are too long for nonviolent offenders… . Most judges think we should [do away with mandatory minimum sentences]. I certainly think they should be reexamined. And the disparities are unconscionable between crack and powdered cocaine….Our imprisonment policies are counterproductive.”
– President Bill Clinton, Rolling Stone, December 28, 2000
President George H.W. Bush
“[Eliminating mandatory minimums] will result in better justice and more appropriate sentences.”
– President (then Representative) George H.W. Bush, in 1970 speaking about a successful bill to eliminate mandatory minimums.
U.S. Supreme Court justices
Justice Anthony Kennedy
“I'm against mandatory sentences. They take away judicial discretion to serve the four goals of sentencing. American sentences are eight times longer than their equivalents in Europe. California's 3-strikes law emanated from the electorate, and the sponsor of the initiative was the correctional officers association—and that is sick. California has 185,000 people in prison, and the cost is astounding.”
- Justice Anthony Kennedy, William French Smith Memorial Lecture, Pepperdine University, February 3, 2010.
"If you were asked to design a penal system that would win the prize for the worst system, the one you’ve got would at least be runner-up... If cost is a way to activate human compassion, I’ll take it. We are squandering our resources and spending them in the wrong way.”
- Justice Anthony Kennedy, speech to the Forum Club of Palm Beaches and the Palm Beach County Bar Association, West Palm Beach, Fla., May 14, 2010.
“I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences. In too many cases mandatory minimum sentences are unwise and unjust. . .The legislative branch has the obligation to determine whether a policy is wise. It is a grave mistake to retain a policy just because a court finds it constitutional. Courts may conclude the legislature is permitted to choose long sentences, but that does not mean long sentences are wise or just…A court decision does not excuse the political branches or the public from the responsibility for unjust laws.”
– Justice Anthony Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court justice at annual meeting of the American Bar Association, 2003
“Mandatory minimums are harsh and in may cases unjust.” If the hypothetical example of an 18-year-old gets caught growing marijuana in the woods and happens to have a hunting rifle in his truck when arrested, he could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. Now he shouldn’t be doing that, (but) an 18-yearold doesn’t know how long 15 years is.”
– Anthony Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court justice, in Congressional testimony, 2003
Chief Justice William Rehnquist
“These mandatory minimum sentences are perhaps a good example of the law of unintended consequences. There is a respectable body of opinion which believes that these mandatory minimums impose unduly harsh punishment for first-time offenders…mandatory minimums have also led to an inordinate increase in the federal prison population and will require huge expenditures to build new prison space...they frustrate the careful calibration of sentences, from one end of the spectrum to the other, which the sentencing guidelines were intended to accomplish.”
- Chief Justice William Rehnquist, "Luncheon Address," in U.S. Sentencing Commission, Drugs and Violence, 2005.
"Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long."
– William H. Rehnquist, former chief justice of U.S. Supreme Court, at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Bar Association
Justice Stephen G. Breyer
[More statutes containing mandatory minimum sentences are] “not going to advance the cause of law enforcement in my opinion and it’s going to set back the course of fairness in sentencing. . . . There has to be room for the unusual or the exceptional case.”
– Stephen G. Breyer, associate Supreme Court Justice, at a John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, 2003
Honorable Judge Julie E. Carnes
“Unjust mandatory minimums . . . have a corrosive effect on our broader society. To function successfully, our judicial system must have the respect of the public. The robotic imposition of sentences that are viewed as unfair or irrational greatly undermines that respect. . . [S]ome of these statutes do not produce merely questionable results; instead, a few produce truly bizarre outcomes.
- Honorable Judge Julie E. Carnes, Chair of the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, statement before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, July 14, 2009.
Professor David Zlotnick, Roger Williams School of Law, Rhode Island, created a set of case studies of federal sentencings that captures judicial dissatisfaction with the sentencing laws in effect during the mandatory Guidelines era . After corresponding with hundreds of inmates, he gathered sufficient documents to write detailed profiles of forty Republican appointees and at least one case in which each of these judges stated their disagreement with the sentence required by law from the bench. Only cases where reliable documents, such as the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (“PSI”) and the Sentencing Transcript, were available were considered. Read the study
U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell
“I express no view on mandatory minimum sentencing schemes in general. But …one particular feature of the federal scheme – the ‘count stacking’ feature of § 924(c) for first-time offenders – has lead to an unjust result in this case and will lead to unjust results in other cases….The 55-year sentence mandated by § 924(c) in this case appears to unjust, cruel and irrational.”
– U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell in sentencing first-time offender Weldon Angelos to 55 years in prison, 2004. Nominated by President George W. Bush, 2001.
Honorable Robert Cindrich
"When the law provides a result that is repugnant, we must still follow the law. And you can only do that so many times before you start to wonder, 'How many more times am I going to put my name on this sentence that I don't believe in?'”
– Robert Cindrich, who resigned from the federal bench, partially in protest of federal sentencing guidelines, 2004. Nominated by President William J. Clinton, 1994.
Honorable John S. Martin Jr.
For most of our history, our system of justice operated on the premise that justice in sentencing is best achieved by having a sentence imposed by a judge who, fully informed about the offense and the offender, has discretion to impose a sentence within the statutory limits. Although most judges and legal scholars recognize the need for discretion in sentencing, Congress has continually tried to limit it, initially through the adoption of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. . . . For a judge to be deprived of the ability to consider all of the factors that go into formulating a just sentence is completely at odds with the sentencing philosophy that has been a hallmark of the American system of justice.
– John S. Martin Jr., federal district judge in Manhattan, retired in protest of restrictions on federal judicial discretion, 2003. Nominated by President George H.W. Bush, 1990.
Honorable J. Spencer Letts
“Statutory mandatory minimum sentences create injustice because the sentence is determined without looking at the particular defendant…. It can make no difference whether he is a lifetime criminal or a first-time offender. Indeed, under this sledgehammer approach, it could make no difference if the day before making this one slip in an otherwise unblemished life the defendant had rescued 15 children from a burning building or had won the Congressional Medal of Honor while defending his country.”
– J. Spencer Letts, U.S. district judge, Central District of California, senior status 2000. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, 1985.
Honorable Leon Higginbotham
“We must remember we are not widgets or robots, but human beings. Defendants should be sentenced within the spectrum of what most judges would consider fair and reasonable.”
—Leon Higginbotham, judge, 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Nominated to the circuit court by President Jimmy Carter, 1977.
Honorable David Doty
“I think that a lot of people do not understand what is going on until, all of a sudden, they are caught up in the system; and they find out that people have been mouthing all kinds of slogans, and when the slogans all come down to rest, they sometimes come to rest very hard on the shoulders of the individual.”
—David Doty, U.S. district judge, Minnesota, senior status 1998. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, 1987.
Honorable Paul A. Magnuson
“…I continue to believe that sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment under the circumstances of this case is unconscionable and patently unjust….[the defendant] will be sacrificed on the altar of Congress’ obsession with punishing crimes involving narcotics. This obsession is, in part, understandable, for narcotics pose a serious threat to the welfare of this country and its citizens. However, at the same time, mandatory minimum sentences – almost by definition – prevent the Court from passing judgment in a manner properly tailored to a defendant’s particular circumstances.
—Paul A. Magnuson, U.S. district judge, Minnesota, senior status 2002. Nominated by Ronald Reagan, 1981.
Honorable Joyce Hens Green
“As a consequence of the mandatory sentences, we (judges) know that justice is not always done…[Y]ou cannot dispense equal justice by playing a numbers game. Judgment and discretion and common sense are essential.”
—Joyce Hens Green, U.S. district judge, District of Columbia, senior status 1995. Nominated by Jimmy Carter 1979.
Honorable Stanley Sporkin
“We need to deal with the drug problem in a much more discretionary, compassionate way. We need treatment, not just punishment and imprisonment.”
—Stanley Sporkin, U.S. district judge, District of Columbia, retired 2000. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan 1985
“. . .So many of the women here in Alderson will never have the joy and wellbeing that you and I experience. Many of them have been here for years -- devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of family. I beseech you all to think about these women -- to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life ‘out there’ where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living.”
– Martha Stewart, December 2004